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Freelancers – the Ethical Heart of PR

Nigel Sarbutts is the Founder of The PR Cavalry, which matches clients and agencies with talented freelancers. Here, he shares his thoughts on why he believes freelancers are the ethical heart of PR.

If ethical behaviour is an essential criterion when selecting a PR consultant, hire a freelancer.

Not because that is a guarantee of ethical behaviour, any more than working with a traditional agency is guarantee of unethical behaviour.

But working with a freelancer does protect against a kind of behaviour that is unethical - to advise clients based on what is best for your employer rather than the client’s long term interests.

I have experienced this in multinational agency groups – the knowledge that your quarterly figures are looking bad and your boss (who may be in a different time zone) is waiting for answers. But that’s not your real boss. Your real boss is a pension fund manager in Iowa who just wants returns from their shareholding in the plc.

With every link in that chain, the scope for compromise and a blurring of what counts as sound advice for the client increases.

A freelancer sits before the client and if the advice they give is bad, they lose a big piece of their income within a month or two. They have a real, immediate stake in the outcome of the advice they are giving and a big incentive to build a lasting relationship with the client.

Vulnerability begets trust. If you are vulnerable your natural instinct is to protect the value you already have. Let’s be honest, that may lead to a consultant’s advice being over cautious, but that is not a question of ethics.

The direct link between cause and effect is not a guarantee against a freelancer going for the quick take and hoping it all works out, but every freelancer knows how expensive it is to hunt for new clients each month. That is a powerful incentive to do the right thing.

Advice given that earns an extra 10% of revenue that month could mean a long-term drop of far more in the months after as well as the added costs of replacing it.

Freelancers have nowhere to hide. They can’t blame the intern or someone ‘back at the ranch’.

Freelancers shouldn’t apologise for that, they should make it a key selling point of their service.

Being accountable, owning up to mistakes, being authentic and cleaning up your own mess – these are the qualities of true leaders and the real trusted advisor. Freelancers should remind themselves of how much value these qualities bring to the relationship and not be afraid to price that into the deal.

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